China goes crazy for 'king' James

By Zhao Rui (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-10-17 09:29

SHANGHAI - Guo Youtian calls himself "unbelievably stylish".

Don't let his words fool you - the 17-year-old Shanghai hoops fan doesn't really know that much the Autumn and Winter collections of Louis Vuitton or Gucci. But he shares a universal understanding about what "stylish" means with his peers in the city - to wear the Zoom LBJ V sneakers and dunk like LeBron James.

LeBron James of Cleveland Cavaliers takes part in a basketball practice session at Shanghai Luwan Gymnasium in Shanghai October 16, 2007. The team is in China to take part in the NBA China Games 2007, which begins on Wednesday. [Agencies] 

James, the young NBA sensation, has sparked a fresh frenzy of NBA fever in China's financial hub as he leads his Cleveland Cavaliers to face the Orlando Magic today at the NBA China Games.

"I want to shout and shout for him and watch his game," said Guo, a 1.88m hoops nut who has a basketball painted on one arm and the letters "LBJ" (LeBron's adopted initials) on the other.

James's newly released signature sneakers, the Nike Zoom LBJ V China Colorway, has become the hottest item with kids, while a replica jersey from his high school, St. Vincent-St. Mary HS, sells for more than 3,000 yuan (US$405) on the black market.

Nike has even sponsored the LBJ Museum in Shanghai, a display dedicated to all things LeBron. The opening ceremony of the museum on Monday, attended by James and Nike CEO Mark Parker, attracted some 2,000 fans eager to catch a glimpse of the basketball phenomenon.

"I'm proud of watching him play. I'm mad about him," he said. "I think he is more than an individual. He has started a new craze across the world. I will support him like I'll cry for China at the Olympic Games."

The All-Star forward was pleased to learn that he has such a big influence on Chinese basketball fans after spending only three seasons in the NBA, just like his idol Michael Jordan.

"I want to share with you my style of playing basketball and I hope what I do in the NBA inspires Chinese young players to have more passion for the sport," James said to his adoring fans.

Two crowns?

James led the Cavaliers into the NBA Finals last season, but fell just short in his quest for a championship. The 22-year-old is, if anything, even more ambitious for 2008 - "King" James hopes to be crowned twice.

James dreams of leading the Cavs to their first NBA title, and hopes to follow it up with a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

"I am always a leader on the Cavs," James told China Daily. "I will grow and become a better leader and lead our team. As an individual, as a basketball player, I want to keep on improving every summer.

"I want my team to go further in the playoffs, and that means winning the championship."

James was not shy about hiding his ambitious Olympic quest. "The goal is clear for everybody on the team - we want the gold," he said. "I think it's a big challenge for us, and I think it's going to be a great experience trying to bring USA Basketball back on top and bring it back to dominance."

The last 12 months have been busy for James. He followed his trip to the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs by playing for Team USA, which easily won gold in its regional Olympic qualifying tournament.

"I love a summer like this though, it was pretty short," James said.

"It was the first time in my NBA career that I played into June. It kind of cut into my summer but it was a great experience. Hopefully, I can always play into June," the 22-year-old said, referring to the month in which the Finals are played.

James averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the regular season. In the FIBA Americas championship final in September, James scored 31 points, the most ever by an American player in an Olympic qualifier, in a 118-81 rout of Argentina.

"It's fantastic," he said. "It was one of the best summers I ever had as an individual preparing for a new season. Physically, I'm fine and I'm ready to play another full season."

James, a member of the 2004 US Olympic team that brought home bronze from Athens, said Team USA learned some bitter lessons after underperforming at the Olympics in 2004.

"We definitely underestimated the level of play," he said. "We understand how good these teams are and how good they can play basketball."

James's ambition has won high praise from his sponsor, Nike, which should continue to dominate the basketball market as it grows along with the young superstar.

"I think LeBron is the most exciting and talented basketball player in the world," said Nike CEO Parker. "He is competitive and skillful, and he will be in Beijing to compete in the Olympic Games next year, so I am sure his profile will continue to increase in China."

Nike has worked closely with James since his high school days, and his seven-year $90 million contract with Nike has already made waves in the basketball world.

"I am also happy to see that with stars like LeBron, basketball is a very successful story for Nike and we have doubled the market share of any of our competitors in the world." said Parker.

The sportswear giant also sponsored a total of 24 Chinese national teams at the Athens Games.

Parker said he was going to have more signature products for Chinese athletes, especially for the Milwaukee Bucks rookie Yi Jianlian.

"I have seen some similarity between LeBron and Yi. I am sure we will have more designed product for Yi as well," he said.

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